General Hospital of Kochi sets model by growing their own vegetables

The Dietary Department of the General Hospital is using aquaponics and hydroponics to grow vegetables to prepare meals for the patients.
The aquaponics unit at the General Hospital  K Shijith
The aquaponics unit at the General Hospital  K Shijith

KOCHI: Growing vegetables in their backyard is a dream that everyone cherishes. But for many, it just remains a dream. However, the Dietary Department of the General Hospital has turned their dream into reality. The staff here wanted to serve at least a day’s meal made using the vegetables grown on their premises. A farm took shape and they called it ‘HarithaKochi Jeevanam’. So far they have harvested six times and the vegetables were used to prepare meals for the patients.

The Dietary Department’s farm is comprised of around 40 grow bags and a unit of aquaponics. The farm produces enough to meet the requirements of a few wards at a time. “We select the wards based on the numbers. The latest harvest took place two weeks ago. We will be planting amaranthus soon,” said Reshmi, dietician, the General Hospital.

Apart from the aquaponics unit, a hydroponics unit also has been set up at the hospital. However, it is yet to begin operation. At the aquaponics unit, a few cauliflowers and cabbages along with herbs like mint is being grown. “Since the growing season for cauliflower and cabbages is coming to an end, we are planning on cultivating a new range of plants. The hydroponic unit will start functioning soon and once it does we will be able to grow more plants,” she added.

Wonder what aquaponics is? It is a farming culture where the aquatic animals are raised alongside growing plants. Aquaculture plus hydroponics gives you aquaponics. The system works on the principle of interdependence for survival. In an aquaponic system, water from the aquaculture system is fed to the hydroponic system where the excretions and other byproducts are broken down into nitrates. The nutrients are utilized by the plants to grow. The water is then recycled and fed back to the aquaculture system. 

The aquaponic system at the hospital has guppy and ‘gift fishes’. Guppy fishes are being used to serve a dual purpose. One is to keep a check on the mosquito population while the other is to obtain the necessary fish waste. The gift fishes were introduced later in order to generate more waste for the plants to grow on. 

Hydroponics is a type of hydroculture where you grow plants without soil. In hydroponics plants are fed nutrients from an array of sources like fish waste, duck droppings etc.Though the farming technique continues, expansion is another matter entirely. The hospital has a lot of space to place the grow bags.  However, the initiative remains a small one and benefits a few at a time.“The project is slowly progressing. New constructions are coming up. A speciality block which will let in sunlight in abundance is on the cards. Once the construction gets over we plan to cultivate vegetables on the sidelines,” added Ashok Kumar,  Health Inspector, General Hospital.

Guppy Fish 
Guppy is a freshwater fish is commonly kept in aquariums. It feeds on mosquito larvae and eggs thus helping in the eradicating mosquitoes.  “The system was installed at the hospital with an aim to control the mosquito population. However, today the project has grown. One can cultivate vegetables like bitter gourd, ash gourd, snake gourd etc in large numbers since they are creepers and can be easily trained onto to a solid structure,” said Ashok Kumar, Health Inspector, General Hospital. “Ours is a small model. We believe it is ideal for a household and will urge people to consider to take up such a form of cultivation. Nothing goes waste in this system.  Even the slurry can be used for the plants,” he said.

Advantages of aquaponics
Waist-high aquaponic gardening eliminates weeds, back strain, and small animal access to your garden
Aquaponics relies on the recycling of nutrient-rich water continuously. In aquaponics there is no toxic run-off from either hydroponics or aquaculture

Aquaponics uses only 1/10th of the water of soil-based gardening, and even less water than hydroponics or recirculating aquaculture
No harmful petro chemicals, pesticides or herbicides can be used
Gardening chores are cut down dramatically or eliminated. The aquaponics grower is able to focus on the enjoyable tasks of feeding the fish and tending to and harvesting the plants
Aquaponic systems can be put anywhere, use them outside, in a greenhouse, in your basement, or in your living room! By using grow-lighting, and space can become a productive garden
Aquaponic systems are scaleable. They can fit most sizes and budgets, from small countertop herb systems, to backyard gardens, to full scale farms, aquaponics can do it all
One can harvest both plants and fish from the garden

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